TIME Veterans

Rising VA Disability Payments Linked to Veteran Unemployment

Last US Military Convoy Departs Iraq
Mario Tama / Getty Images A U.S. soldier waves as the final American convoy pulls out of Iraq in 2011 at the end of the second Iraq war.

Stanford study suggests a seesaw relationship between the two

Unemployment persists among military veterans as a sharply growing number of them are receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new study by a Stanford economist. The steep increase in such payments, Mark Duggan suggests, could be acting as a brake on their employment prospects.

Veterans receiving disability compensation from the VA rose from 8.9% in 2001 to 18% this year, Duggan’s study says. Even as the number of veterans shrank from 26.1 million in 2001 to 22 million this year, those receiving federal money for wounds linked to military service have climbed from 2.3 million to 3.9 million.


Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

“The substantial rise in Disability Compensation enrollment in recent years suggests that this program may be affecting labor market outcomes for military veterans,” Duggan writes. He cites two possible reasons:

— It can reduce a veteran’s “propensity to work because—with the additional income—he may now prefer additional leisure to work.”

— Additional work may also “prevent a veteran from qualifying for a higher level of Disability Compensation benefits—and thus increase the effective tax rate on work.”

The jobless rate among post-9/11 vets was 7.2% in October, compared to the nation’s 5.8% rate—and a 4.5% rate among all veterans.

The study “is important because it shows how the good intentions of the disability system can sabotage the well-being of veterans,” says Sally Satel, a one-time VA psychiatrist who now works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. But the report, she adds, could boomerang: “Talking about reforming the veterans’ disability system is a third-rail topic because, on superficial glance, it appears as if reformers want to deny veterans help.”

But Satel, a reform advocate, denies that. “Reformers urge that assistance be given in the most constructive way possible,” she says. “This means that the VA should go all-out in terms of treatment and rehabilitation, to maximize entry into the workforce and minimize exit from it.”

Some vets believe the report misses the point. Repeated deployments and the lack of a formal, uniformed and organized enemy, ground down the Americans who fought the post-9/11 wars, says Alex Lemons, a Marine sergeant who pulled three tours in Iraq, “A number of my friends were blown into many pieces and they never quite reassembled them,” he says. “You might look at this person and think they look fine despite scars, but then you find out they can’t stand for more than an hour a day, they have shrapnel that works its way out of their dermis and have to pry it out, they are near deaf without hearing aids, or they can’t pick up things as a result of nerve damage in a hand. It means they will never be qualified for many jobs.”

Lemons says it’s good that troops are coming forward seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, which has gone from the 10th most-common condition among vets on disability in 2000, to third in 2013. “In my infantry battalion the number of Marines who are on PTSD disability is not more than 35%,” he says, “even though I believe everyone who deployed with us has it.”

The average monthly disability payment grew 46%—from $747 to $1,094—between 2001 and 2013, Duggan reports. While that’s not much per veteran, the nation paid out a total of $54 billion in such benefits in 2013.

Congressional Budget Office

Not only are more veterans receiving disability compensation, Duggan’s report says, but they’re receiving more than earlier veterans did. That’s because the VA has ruled that the impact of their military service on their health is greater than for earlier generations of vets. Disability payments are pegged to a VA-determined rating, which is expressed in 10 percentage-point increments. Between 2001 and 2013, the number of vets deemed 10% disabled—generating an average monthly payment of $131 last year—dropped by 1%. Over the same period, the more than 800,000 vets rated 80% or more disabled—receiving an average monthly payment of $2,700—rose by 221%.

Military service also may have “become more demanding over time,” accounting for less veteran participating in the labor force, Duggan’s report says. “Consistent with this explanation,” he adds, “veterans have become more likely than non-veteran males to report that their health is poor or just fair rather than excellent, very good, or good.”

Elspeth Ritchie, a retired colonel who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010, believes the report slights what troops experienced in the nation’s post-9/11 wars. “It does not seem to factor in the high rate of physical injuries, traumatic brain injury and PTSD in the veterans from these conflicts,” she says.

Since turning its back on its veterans following the unpopular war in Vietnam, American society has sung the praises of its veterans, and has been footing the bills for those hurt to prove it. “Spending on veterans’ disability benefits has almost tripled since fiscal year 2000, from $20 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2013—an average annual increase of nearly 8%, after adjusting for inflation,” the Congressional Budget Office reported in August. “VA projects that such spending will total $60 billion in 2014 and $64 billion in 2015, a 19% increase from two years earlier.”

Duggan reports that a “key driver” in the growth of such benefits has been the VA’s decision to make veterans who served in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war eligible for benefits if they have Type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemia. The agency took the action when it decided to “presume” the ailments were linked to military service in the theater and possible exposure there to the defoliant Agent Orange.

Today’s veterans, the study says, are more likely than their fathers to seek and gain VA disability benefits. Nearly one in four vets since 1990 are being compensated, compared to one in seven veterans prior to 1990. “This higher rate of enrollment may be primarily driven by the VA’s approval of presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater from 1990 to the present (including Iraq and Afghanistan),” Duggan found.


Congressional Budget Office

He also reports that while veterans between 1980 and 1999 were more like to be employed than non-veterans, that has flipped since 2000. “This significant reduction in labor force participation among veterans,” he adds, “closely coincides with their increase in Disability Compensation enrollment during this same period.”

Duggan notes that a 2010 change in VA regulations no longer required veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD to document their exposure to wartime trauma such as firefights or IED blasts. The number of veterans being compensated for PTSD rose from 133,789 in 2000 to 648,992 last year. “The percentage of all veterans on the Disability Compensation program with a diagnosis of PTSD has increased by a factor of six during this period,” Duggan writes, “from 0.5% in 2000 to 3.0% in 2013.”

The jump doesn’t surprise William Treseder, who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine sergeant. “Many post-9/11 vets can tell you stories about the inflation of VA claims,” he says. “We are often told to file for certain conditions—especially post-traumatic stress—whether or not we think it’s actually an issue. It’s the chicken-soup principle in action: can’t hurt; might help.”

Like Duggan, Treseder believes more study is needed examining the impact of disability payments on veterans. “This is much-needed research,” he says. “I’m glad to see someone out there looking into this.”

TIME Crime

New York Mourns Slain Officers as Police Tighten Security

APTOPIX Pistons Nets Basketball NYPD Officers Shot
Jason DeCrow—AP New York Police Department officers Mark Cava, left, and Jason Muller participate in a moment of silence for two slain NYPD officers before an NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 21, 2014, in New York City.

The NYPD tightened protocol for its officers, as the city mourned the loss of the two policemen gunned down over the weekend.

New York police officers were directed to only go on foot patrols in pairs, the New York Times reported, after policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn were shot to death by a mentally unstable man on Saturday afternoon.

Thousands of unarmed volunteer auxiliary officers have had their patrols suspended.

Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40, were the first NYPD officers to be killed on duty since December 2011. The suspected gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, had posted on Instagram that he was “putting wings on pigs today,” before coming up from behind their patrol car and firing four shots through the passenger window. He later apparently turned the gun on himself.

Police commissioner William J. Bratton visited the makeshift memorial at the Brooklyn crime scene Sunday. A candlelight vigil took place in Harlem. President Obama also offered his condolences to Bratton over phone from his vacation in Hawaii, and Jeh C. Johnson, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, visited the precinct where the slain officers worked.

“They were assassinated — targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe,” Bratton wrote in a message to all 35,000 members of the department. “Be safe.”

Jaden, the 13-year-old son of slain Officer Rafael Ramos, wrote on his Facebook wall: “This is the worst day of my life. It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help.”

Shakuwra Dabre, mother of Brinsley, told DNAInfo on Monday she was “horrified” to learn her son had killed two police officers. “I still wish to extend my condolences to those families because they’re grieving and I’m grieving also at the loss of my son.”

The shootings also came at a time of tension between the police, particularly the unions, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, which was especially apparent on Saturday, as several officers turned their backs on the Mayor as he held a news conference.

TIME Sports

Multiple People Injured by Lightning Strike After Buccaneers Game

Buccaneers Lightning Strike
Brian Blanco—AP Tampa Police Officers talk to spectators after football fans were reportedly taken to the hospital with injuries after a lightning strike near the Raymond James Stadium, Dec. 21, 2014, in Tampa, Fla.

At least six were being treated by paramedics

Between five to seven people were injured by a lightning strike as the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers game ended at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, according to USA Today.

It is unknown if they were hit by a direct strike or injured by a nearby bolt, however Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Tampa Fire and Rescue said it doesn’t appear the people were struck by lightning, but “knocked to the ground nearby.”

Tampa Fire and Rescue said at least six were being treated by paramedics, and all of the victims were taken to a local area hospital. None of the injuries are fatal, according to Auman.

The injuries occurred in the parking lot at the north end of the stadium.

This article originally appeared on SportsIllustrated.com

TIME Crime

NYPD Ambush Gunman Told Passersby to ‘Watch What I’m Going to Do’

Marie Jean-Baptiste
Mark Lennihan—AP New York City police officer Darren Cox, right, accompanied by fellow officers, leaves flowers at a memorial in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Dec. 21, 2014.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley said that before fatally shooting two officers, police said Sunday

Moments before he ambushed and killed two New York police officers, gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley told passersby to follow him on Instagram and then said, “Watch what I’m going to do,” investigators said Sunday.

The disclosure came as police sketched a timeline of Brinsley’s activities in the hours before he shot and killed Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn on Saturday. Brinsley later killed himself. Investigators said Brinsley, 28, shot his ex-girlfriend at her Baltimore apartment after an argument, then took a bus to New York.

On social media accounts, he occasionally ranted against police and government, investigators said.

Read the rest of this story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Yankees Will Pay for Education of Slain NYPD Officer’s Children

Police officers pause in front of a memorial for two police officers who were killed in Brooklyn on Dec. 21, 2014.
Adam Glanzman Police officers pause in front of a memorial for two police officers who were killed in Brooklyn on Dec. 21, 2014.

NYPD officer Rafael Ramos is survived by two sons

The New York Yankees will pay for the education of the two sons of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos, one of two cops fatally shot in an ambush on Saturday.

The funds will pay for the schooling of Ramos’ 13-year-old son, Jaden, and another son who is currently in college, the New York Daily News reported Sunday. The money comes from late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s Yankee Silver Shield Foundation, which for 32 years has funded the education of children of New York City police officers, firemen and Port Authority workers who are killed on duty.

The other NYPD officer killed on Saturday, Wenjian Liu, does not have kids. He had recently gotten married.

[New York Daily News]

TIME Crime

Mayor Bill de Blasio Under Scrutiny After 2 NYPD Officers Killed

Tensions between police and de Blasio have run high since the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in July

Several community and political leaders have criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the wake of Saturday’s fatal ambush of two police officers.

The attack by a man identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who posted on social media specifically about wanting to kill police before traveling to New York City and shooting the officers at close range, arrives at the end of months of rising tension between de Blasio and the city’s police force.

Police union leaders have already criticized de Blasio’s lack of support for city police officers, who have been the subject of increased scrutiny after a grand jury declined to indict a white cop in the chokehold-related death of Staten Island man Eric Garner. The grand jury decision was issued around the same time that police shot and killed an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, in a darkened stairwell in Brooklyn.

Nationally, protests against racial profiling and excessive police force have centered around the rallying cry #BlackLivesMatter, taking place in malls, football stadiums and on the streets of major cities like Los Angeles; Atlanta; Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. The protests have primarily focused on Garner and Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., in August, as well as 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed in November by Cleveland police who thought his toy gun was real.

De Blasio has previously expressed sympathy for the Garner family, and has called for “an honest conversation in this country about a history of racism.”

During a news conference on Saturday, the mayor stressed the importance of police and expressed outrage at the afternoon attack. “We depend on our police to protect us against forces of criminality and evil,” he said. “They are a foundation of our society, and when they are attacked, it is an attack on the very concept of decency.”

Police said Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore before traveling to New York City on Saturday, killing officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were sitting in a squad car, and then turning the gun on himself.

The tension between police officers and de Blasio was visible during the news conference, as several officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he entered the room. Days before the ambush, union leaders had circulated a letter in which officers may request that de Blasio not attend their funerals if they die on duty.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a union of NYPD officers who have heavily criticized de Blasio since Garner’s death in July, said:

George Pataki, former Republican governor of New York, wrote:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Sunday in a Fox News interview:

It is the right time to talk about [de Blasio’s] policies. His policies of allowing protests to get out of control, and of his not emphasizing enough the importance of fatherhood, the importance of education, the importance of an alternative to a public education system that is failing the black children.

Former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown wrote on Facebook:

I am angry that there are public figures/elected officials who are contributing to the racial tension. Sad that we do not have a leader or leaders who want to unite our country and that people don’t see through their efforts to divide us.

Community leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has organized rallies protesting the nonindictments in the Garner and Brown cases, said in a statement:

Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases. We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

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